On the first day of a new year, resolutions are like a fresh snowfall: bright and clean, unmarred by even the slightest failure. But by the time February rolls around, life's daily challenges and pressures have started to leave their muddy footprints, gradually turning the once-pristine snow into dirty slush, until you eventually forget how brilliant and full of promise it once was.
It's perfectly normal for even the most carefully chosen goals to lose some of their luster as the novelty of the new year starts to fade. That doesn't mean you have to resign yourself to wallowing in the mud of defeat, though. There are always fresh, unsullied opportunities waiting just around the corner, and every day is a chance to strike out on a brand-new path.
Instead of beating yourself up for neglecting your workouts or straying from your healthy eating plan, strap on your proverbial boots and try some of these expert-recommended strategies to keep your goals in sight well after the ball has dropped.
Get super small—and super specific.
When setting new goals, it's easy to overestimate what we can do in a day, warns personal trainer Dani Singer. Working out for an hour every day might sound like a noble goal—that is, until reality hits and your kids are sick and you have a massive deadline coming up. Suddenly, that hour workout becomes no workout at all.
Instead, Singer recommends setting smarter resolutions by asking yourself the following question: "What's the smallest habit that, if done daily, will help me reach my goals?"
"Your answer might be something like a 10-minute morning walk or prepping your healthy lunch every night for the following day," he explains. "These actions may not sound significant, but if you can commit to [doing them] every single day, you'll be shocked at your progress when you revisit your resolutions later in the year."
It's also important to pick resolutions that can be measured, notes David Ezell, M.A., M.S., clinical director of Darien Wellness. "Saying 'I want to save money' is not nearly as effective as saying 'I will invest $40 a day in my savings account,'" he says. "When my clients want to become fit, I ask them to define 'fit.' We eventually reach a specific and measurable goal, like losing 7 percent body fat or doing 10 pull-ups by month’s end."
Schedule your resolutions.
Registered dietitian Summer Yule suggests blocking out time for your resolutions in your planner, phone or family calendar. For example, if your resolution is to cook healthy dinners three times a week, set aside the time to make a shopping list, pick up the ingredients and do any necessary meal prep. If the resolution is to walk three miles three times a week, schedule those sessions just as you would any appointment. Better yet, set an alarm on your phone to provide an additional reminder.
"Finding the time to fit these activities into your day means they are far more likely to get done," Yule says.
Fitness instructor Kat Haselkorn also recommends setting alerts on your phone a few times a year—perhaps the first day of each quarter—to remind yourself of your goals and to review your progress. "Rather than setting a goal and merely hoping you've achieved it by the end of the year, these little nudges help you stay on track and motivate you to go out there and make it happen," she says.
And while you're at it, trainer LJ, a health and fitness expert and creator of Fit Body Beats, recommends setting a new inspirational phone background each week for an added boost of motivation. "Search Google or Pinterest for motivational wallpapers you can download," she suggests. "Then, every time you open your phone, you'll see the reminder and keep up your goal-crushing mood."
Set up your home for success.
Once you've set your intentions, take the time to consider how your surroundings are helping or hurting your progress. Yule encourages her clients to arrange their homes to set themselves up for success.
"One example is to leave your running shoes by the front door so all you have to do is put them on and head out," she suggests. "Putting fresh fruits and veggies in the easiest-to-reach spots in the fridge makes it more likely that you'll grab produce for a snack instead of cookies."
Take the time to evaluate the spaces you use most often—from the pantry to the bedroom—to identify any potential sources of sabotage, and then make any necessary adjustments to improve your chances of resolution success.
Anticipate the obstacles.
Life is unpredictable, and there will inevitably be setbacks and roadblocks along the way. To ensure that your New Year’s resolutions don't wind up as nothing more than wishful thinking, Ana Jovanovic, M.S., a clinical psychologist with Parenting Pod, recommends asking yourself what obstacles may stand in your way.
"My clients tend to tell me that I am being too pessimistic by asking this question," she admits. "They haven’t even started working on their resolutions and there I am, asking what may go wrong. But asking this question helps them prepare. By anticipating the obstacles, they can think about workarounds beforehand and plan accordingly."
As part of this practice, Jovanovic invites her clients to recognize the flaws in their consistency, motivation, support system, financial resources and other areas. "There are many factors (and excuses) that can influence our ability to stay on track," she notes. Once you've identified those potential weaknesses, you can focus on ways to overcome them.
Seek out support.
When setting goals and making resolutions, it's easy to fall into the trap of assuming you have to tackle them alone, aided only by those mysterious enigmas of "willpower" and "discipline." But as health coach Liza Baker points out, we are social creatures, and sometimes the best resource to keep your resolutions on track is another human being.
"Sometimes, having an accountability buddy is sufficient—someone you check in with to say 'I worked out' or someone who actually does the workouts with you," Baker says. "Others may need the energy of a group class." If you need even more guidance, she suggests hiring a personal trainer or health coach to keep you on track without getting caught up in the excuses that work on yourself, your friends and your family.
Support can also come in a virtual form. Through online communities like SparkPeople, you can connect with like-minded members who may be looking for their own accountability buddy.
As Jovanovic points out, the simple act of sharing your resolutions with others can help ensure success. "When you tell others about your resolutions, people tend to share their own experiences, offering advice, tips and tricks that can be helpful during the process," she says. "Plus, you will have people to encourage you through the process and to celebrate success with you."
Examine old resolutions.
Sometimes the most effective roadmap to success lies in the rearview mirror. Ezell recommends taking a look at your resolutions from previous years to see if you can pinpoint any patterns. "If they worked, why? If they didn't work, examine the evidence to see where you went wrong," he suggests. "Mistakes are the stepping stones to success."
It's easy to feel defeated if a certain resolution doesn't pan out quite like you'd hoped, but trainer LJ believes there is no such thing as failure. "Even if you didn't accomplish all you wanted, it's simply an opportunity to reevaluate and learn what did and didn't work," she notes. "You just need to make some adjustments, which is all the more valuable in propelling you toward your goals."
Have resolutions worked for you in the past? What goals did you set for yourself this year?
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